Everyone loves a tale about a swindler… a grifter… a con artist… Unless, of course, they’re telling a story about how they themselves got caught up in a con. But observing others getting lured into the threads of fabrication has the makings of the perfect voyeuristic experience, particularly in a tale set in the bright lights of New York’s high society; bursting with grandeur, glamour and glitz.
“Inventing Anna” seems, on the surface, to tick all of the boxes. It has the appearance of the perfect TV show to get sucked into. So, how successful was the Netflix drama in keeping its audience hooked on the story of a large-scale swindler? Anna Delvey (Anna Sorokin) conned New York’s elite between 2013 and 2017 by posing as a wealthy German heiress, extracting hundreds of thousands of dollars from high society. In 2017, she was arrested for defrauding/intentionally deceiving major financial institutions, banks, hotels and acquaintances in the USA. She was convicted in 2019 and sentenced to 4 to 12 years in prison.
So, naturally, the Netflix dramatisation of her story revels in her exploitation of those who, you can’t help but feel decidedly unsympathetic towards.
Julia Garner plays the “heiress”, with quick wit, stylish costumes and a hugely impressive ability to wrap every person in almost every room around her little finger. Her performance is electric and gripping; embodying the strangeness of Anna as well as the charm and even the rage that can contort her completely and unapologetically. Simultaneously, Garner’s interpretation injects enough humanity into the portrayal to never allow the audience to lose their emotional connection to the character.
Anna Chlumsky portrays Vivian Kent – a journalist based on Jessica Pressler (the writer who wrote an article about Anna in the New York magazine). Said article threw Anna into the world’s spotlight, despite the socialites and businesses wanting anything but a limelight on their naivete and simpleness. Chlumsky’s performance is less ostentatious than Garner’s because the character is less extreme, but her naturalistic portrayal is no less captivating.
“Inventing Anna” comes from Shonda Rimes – and tells the tale in the style of a modern soap opera. It’s fast-paced, vibrant and fun (in the most delicious way). However, there is a lack of depth in characterisation, as things hasten to stay on the surface in this “soap opera” style. So anyone hoping for a deep-dive into Anna’s motivations and possible personality disorder(s) may not be quite as invested.
The series is extremely playful and fun, opening with the mischievous disclaimer: “this whole story is completely true. Except for all of the parts that are totally made up”. The show then acknowledges the buzz and popularity surrounding the story of the real-life Anna Delvey by showing a multitude of magazines hot off the press. Anna’s voiceover accompanies: “This whole story, the one you are about to sit on your fat ass and watch like a big lump of nothing, is about me”. This introduction is immediately enticing and paints a vivid picture before we’ve even been introduced to the character of Anna.
Following this, the audience is pulled along with Chlumsky’s Vivian Kent as she tries to grab hold of what she feels is a juicy story. She visits Anna in prison in an attempt to get all of the gory details of her exploits in New York City. She starts to connect up the different elements of Anna’s deception and those she managed to lure in. Each episode hones in on someone who fell prey to Anna’s trickery – from her ex-boyfriend, to a lawyer, to her ex-best friend. Some of those who got caught in Anna’s hoax in the show are based on the real people that were hoodwinked, and some are fictional and just created for the series.
The timeline flicks between Vivian’s interviews with Anna in the ‘present’ of the show and scenes that flashback to explore how she ended up in that situation. It starts off with small acts of fraud as they slowly spiral into bigger and grander hoaxes, which eventually lead to her downfall. Despite knowing the truth of the story and being with her in prison from the start, the audience can’t help but feel disappointed in some ways that she doesn’t get away with weaving her web of deceit.
The first couple of episodes are quite slow, and less interesting than the subsequent episodes, feeling rather stretched out and feature some lusterless characters. But it soon dives head first into an enjoyable and spirited series. Overall, the series is somewhat lacking in depth and won’t really satisfy those who have been obsessed with Anna since the news hit the press. Those looking for a colourful escape into a voyeuristic world of glamour and betrayal, soap opera style, however, will not be disappointed.